The world of lead guitar is an exciting place. Whether you’re making the switch or just starting out, there are many differences between playing lead and playing rhythm. Both require dedication and hard work, but because lead guitar covers a lot of the technical area, it demands strong concentration. Naturally, you’re going to do a lot more picking in your lead guitar lifetime. One other huge difference is the type of guitar you’ll be using. Whereas an acoustic guitar would be suitable for rhythmic strumming, an ideal guitar for lead would be an electric guitar. However, even if you have the world’s smoothest guitar at hand, it means nothing without the proper knowledge to play it! There are countless lead guitar techniques, but these are the main ones that you’ll be using in your novice lead years:
Before you can incorporate these guitar techniques, you must learn the basics. One crucial aspect is to learn your scales. Depending on the mood and key of the song, you may use different scales to make up lead and improvisation lines. Once you have a good idea of how to start playing lead, you can incorporate little tricks into your playing to make it sound fuller and more professional.
- Bending: This can really help to add personality to your music. To put it simply, when it seems appropriate, keep your finger on the fret and bend the string up the guitar toward you. It can also be bent downward, although this will not work on the upper E string.
- Muting: Muting is used in countless songs. It’s a rather difficult technique, and it may take some time to master. The muted sound is obtained by resting the side of your right palm against the strings, usually down by the bridge between pickups.
- Vibrato: Vibrato is used in many heartfelt songs. There are three different methods of vibrato. Basically, when you end on a note and it feels appropriate, slowly roll your fingers back and forth on the strings without moving them to create a bit of tremolo.
- Hammer-ons and Pull-offs: These lead guitar techniques are definitely advanced, but it doesn’t hurt to learn about them. A hammer-on is when you play a note and immediately “hammer” another finger on a different one to switch notes without picking. A pull-off is when you slide your finger off the string while holding another note with a different finger without picking.
- Chicken Pickin’: Often used in country or rock and roll songs, this picking method requires you to use not only the pick, but your other fingers to pluck strings. When the strings are plucked this way, they are usually plucked harshly and with emphasis.
Of course, if you don’t keep your fingers and mind intact while trying to learn lead guitar techniques, you won’t get anywhere. Fortunately there are some excellent exercises to whip your brain and fingers into shape to utilize all these lead guitar techniques:
As mentioned before, scales are a vital part of learning lead guitar. In truth, practicing your scales might just be the best exercise you can ever do! After a while, you’ll notice a huge difference in your playing. Here are a few of the basic scales- you can look up how to play them and start practicing right away:
- Diatonic: This is the standard do-rei-me scale. You use it in most major songs. Once you memorize the pattern, you can move it up and down the neck to change keys with ease.
- Blues: The blues scale is also often called the pentatonic.
- Chromatic: This is a technical scale. You won’t necessarily use it in any songs, but it helps with building dexterity and speed.
Up and Down Picking
Picking with all downstrokes or upstrokes can be a bad habit that’s tough to break. As a lead guitar player, it’s necessary to learn to alternate strokes with each note. A good exercise to help with this is to hold a G chord in the F form, and practice picking each note of the chord twice – one downstroke, one upstroke – moving up the chord.
If you always stay confident and work on these exercises, soon you’ll be on your way to the top. Good luck!
Photo by Jake Bellucci